From Chris Gayle to Lasith Malinga, a fantasy team to take on the best

Picking the best all-time teams is one of the pleasures of sports fandom. Not even Don Bradman could resist the temptation to pick his best Test XI.

But an all-time T20 XI is different in texture and calls for a distinct approach. In the shorter format, statistics is everything. In the longest it is only one of the things; balance is the key. The best players sometimes don’t make it because of this.

There is probably no place in a T20 team for poor fielders or too many pure bowlers. And once you bring in Lasith Malinga and Rashid Khan, that pretty much shuts the door on most bowlers.

Recency bias might mean including Jasprit Bumrah, for instance, or Sunil Narine, and there is no way of being absolutely sure that they might not be better than the first two. But that’s the fun of imaginary teams — uncertainty is built into the process.

The fact that we can speak airily of recency bias means that the game is equally susceptible to its opposite: the ‘good old days’ fallacy perhaps.

The sport is nearly two decades old, but only two decades old which means that a whole generation, perhaps two, has moved on.

It also means that players who adapted quickly in the early years stood out from among their contemporaries before the availability of greater information and better analytical skills meant that performances in the format as a whole improved overall.

The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould saw this as ‘declining variation’, arguing that ‘systems equilibrate as they improve’. He was obsessed with baseball and worked the figures from there, but the principle is the same here too.

Anyway, to get back to our team. At the top there can be little dispute. Christopher Henry Gayle was for years the hardest hitting and most consistent opening batman.

He gave of his talent to 26 teams across six countries as ambassador of a sport not many were sure of in the early years. He was the first to ten thousand runs and hit more sixes and more boundaries than anybody else. Long before he retired he was already being called the Bradman of T20.

Kohli as opener

Accompanying him would be Virat Kohli, who for long averaged over fifty (admittedly averages mean nothing here) and was known as the King of the Chase. He will have to be cautious about running between wickets with Gayle though, as the latter prefers to stay at home and swing for the rafters.

Captain’s dream

At number three, we would have A.B. de Villiers, the original 360-degree batsman, still the most creative striker the format has seen.

A brilliant fielder and runner between the wickets, he is the captain’s dream. He is one of only two batsman in the list of top ten scorers with a strike rate of over 150.

The other, Kieron Pollard, would bat at five. Pollard has the third best aggregate and 300-plus wickets, besides.

In between, we would have David Warner for his intelligent batting and strike rate. He may love to open, but playing him at four gives us a chance to have a left-right combination both at the top and in the middle.

At six it will be Glen Maxwell, who one of these days is likely to clear the stadium with one swing of the bat, and at seven Andre Russell, who might do that earlier!

Russell has a strike rate of nearly 170 over 400-plus matches, and 364 wickets besides, making him the finest all-round player around.

Dhoni factor

None of these batting positions is etched in rock. Flexibility is the key in T20 cricket. Which is why Mahendra Singh Dhoni coming in at No. 8 is a convenience rather than a necessity. The middle order can be shuffled around depending on the flow of the game and the form of the day.

Dhoni at eight also means the earlier batsmen have the freedom to go for broke knowing he can pick up the pieces.

Meanwhile, waiting in the dugout is Dwayne Bravo, he of 583 wickets and 6700 runs, and a restrictive bowler too. Strike rates in bowling don’t really matter since no wicket for 10 runs in four overs is better than two wickets for fifty.

At ten and eleven come our pure bowlers, leg spinner Rashid Khan and Lasith Malinga. This team can call upon four others and Gayle if he is in the mood.

Missing out

To leave out Rohit Sharma, Jos Buttler, Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Shahid Afridi, Shane Watson and some great fast bowlers, including Dale Steyn is a wrench, but cannot be avoided.

In fact, it may be possible to pick another eleven as good without too much effort. Those who will be known in future as the greats of T20 game have begun emerging in recent years.

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